Local woman remembers Amarillo during civil rights movement - KFDA - NewsChannel 10 / Amarillo News, Weather, Sports

Local woman remembers Amarillo during civil rights movement

Amarillo, TX -- Fifty years ago today (Aug. 28), Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his iconic speech that in many ways articulated the civil rights movement.

When Dr. King spoke at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, the country was in an era of tremendous social upheaval.  And one local woman saw firsthand the problems and progress in Amarillo over the last five decades.

Iris Lawrence graduated high school in Amarillo in 1960.  She graduated one year early by taking summer classes at Amarillo High - because blacks weren't allowed to attend during the regular school year.

"We saw the fountains that said 'Colored,' and 'White Only' -- we saw that -- white restrooms, colored," Iris recalls,  "We were accustomed to that, and we thought that was just the way it was supposed to be."

In 1963, Iris and several other young black people were arrested at the Paramount Theater in downtown Amarillo after refusing to leave when the theater refused to sell them tickets.

"When we got there to basically go in to try to see the movie, the lady turned her back on us.  She wouldn't acknowledge us," said Iris.  "And therefore, we just stood there, and then we kind of moved around a little bit, you know - but we didn't move, and so finally they called the police department and told them to come and take us to jail."

And although they were only held for a few hours, Iris remembers the incident as one of many that taken together were representative of the underlying societal problem of racial prejudice and the continued need for change. She says enormous strides have been made since then, but we still have farther to go toward achieving the ideal of social equity.

"It's going to take another generation or two before we can say, 'I'm your sister and you are my brother,' and think nothing of it. It's getting to that point, but we still have a long way to go," says Lawrence.

In his historic speech, Dr. King stated, "This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy."

I asked Iris what she thought King would say if he were alive today.

"I'm sure he would say, 'I'm proud - still proud to be an American," she replied.  "And my dream now is that we will be able to keep going, keep going, until this dream that I've had would be fulfilled - and that's to say that all men are created equal."

King once stated, "if we are to go forward, we must go back and rediscover those precious values - that all reality hinges on moral foundations and that all reality has spiritual control."

You can read the full transcript of his speech at the national archives by following the link attached to this story.

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